Imitate Their Faith
He Watched, and He Waited
ELIJAH longed to be alone with his heavenly Father. But the throngs of people around him had just seen this true prophet call down fire from heaven, and many of them were no doubt eager to curry favor with him. Before Elijah could ascend to the windswept heights of Mount Carmel and approach Jehovah God in private prayer, he faced an unpleasant task. He had to speak to King Ahab.
The two men could hardly have been more different. Ahab, bedecked in royal finery, was a greedy, weak-willed apostate. Elijah wore the official garb of a prophet—a simple, rustic robe possibly of animal skin or of woven camel or goat hair. He was a man of great courage, integrity, and faith. The day that was now drawing to a close had revealed much about the character of both men. *
It had been a bad day for Ahab and other Baal worshippers. The pagan religion that Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, championed in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel had been dealt a terrible blow. Baal had been exposed as a fraud. That lifeless god had failed to light a simple fire in response to the frantic pleas, dances, and ritual bloodletting of his prophets. Baal had failed to protect those 450 men from their well-deserved execution. But the false god had failed in something else, and that failure was about to be made complete. For over three years, the Baal prophets had implored their god to end the drought afflicting the land, but Baal had proved unable to do so. Soon, Jehovah himself would demonstrate his supremacy by ending the drought.—1 Kings 16:30–17:1; 18:1-40.
When, though, would Jehovah act? How would Elijah conduct himself until then? And what can we learn from this man of faith? Let us see as we examine the account recorded at 1 Kings 18:41-46.
A Prayerful Attitude
Elijah approached Ahab and said: “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the turmoil of a downpour.” (Verse 41) Had this wicked king learned anything from the day’s events? The account does not say specifically, but we find here no words of repentance, no request that the prophet help him approach Jehovah and seek forgiveness. No, Ahab simply “proceeded to go up to eat and drink.” (Verse 42) What about Elijah?
“As for Elijah, he went up to the top of Carmel and began crouching to the earth and keeping his face put between his knees.” While Ahab went off to fill his stomach, Elijah had an opportunity to pray to his Father. Note the humble posture described here—Elijah on the ground with his head bowed so low that his face was near his knees. What was Elijah doing? We need not guess. The Bible, at James 5:18, tells us that Elijah prayed for the drought to end. No doubt he was offering such a prayer on top of Carmel.
Earlier, Jehovah said: “I am determined to give rain upon the surface of the ground.” (1 Kings 18:1) So Elijah prayed that his Father’s stated will be accomplished, much as Jesus taught his followers to pray some one thousand years later.—Matthew 6:9, 10.
Elijah’s example teaches us much about prayer. Foremost in Elijah’s thoughts was the accomplishment of his Father’s will. When we pray, it is good to remember: “No matter what it is that we ask according to [God’s] will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Clearly, then, we need to know what God’s will is in order to pray acceptably—a good reason to make Bible study a part of our daily life. Surely Elijah also wanted to see an end to the drought because of all the suffering among the people of his homeland. His heart was likely full of thanksgiving after the miracle he had seen Jehovah perform that day. Concern for the welfare of others and heartfelt thanksgiving should mark our prayers as well.—2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 4:6.
Confident and Watchful
Elijah was sure that Jehovah would act to end the drought, but he was not sure when Jehovah would act. So, what did the prophet do in the meantime? Note what verse 43 says: “He said to his attendant: ‘Go up, please. Look in the direction of the sea.’ So he went up and looked and then said: ‘There is nothing at all.’ And he went on to say, ‘Go back,’ for seven times.” Elijah’s example teaches us at least two lessons. First, note the prophet’s confidence. Then, consider his watchfulness.
Elijah eagerly sought evidence that Jehovah was about to act, so he sent his attendant up to a high vantage point to scan the horizon for any signs of impending rain. Upon his return, the attendant delivered this unenthusiastic report: “There is nothing at all.” The horizon was clear, and the sky, evidently cloudless. Now, did you notice something unusual? Remember, Elijah had just told King Ahab: “There is the sound of the turmoil of a downpour.” How could the prophet say such a thing when there were no rain clouds to be seen?
Elijah knew of Jehovah’s promise. As Jehovah’s prophet and representative, he was sure that his God would fulfill His word. Elijah was confident—so much so that it was as if he could already hear the downpour. We might be reminded of the Bible’s description of Moses: “He continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” Is God that real to you? He provides ample reason for us to put that kind of faith in him and his promises.—Hebrews 11:1, 27.
Next, notice how watchful Elijah was. He sent his attendant back, not once or twice, but seven times! We might imagine the attendant tiring of such a repetitive task, but Elijah remained eager for a sign and did not give up. Finally, after his seventh trip, the attendant reported: “Look! There is a small cloud like a man’s palm ascending out of the sea.” (Verse 44) Can you picture that attendant holding his arm outstretched and using his palm to gauge the size of one little cloud coming up over the horizon of the Great Sea? * The attendant may have been unimpressed. To Elijah, though, that cloud was significant. He now gave his attendant urgent directions: “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Hitch up! And go down that the downpour may not detain you!’”
Again, Elijah set a powerful example for us. We too live at a time when God will soon act to fulfill his stated purpose. Elijah awaited the end of a drought; God’s servants today await the end of a corrupt world system of things. (1 John 2:17) Until Jehovah God acts, we need to remain watchful, as Elijah was. God’s own Son, Jesus, advised his followers: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42) Did Jesus mean that his followers would be completely in the dark as to when the end would come? No, for he spoke at length about what the world would be like in the days leading up to the end. Each of us can learn about this detailed sign of “the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew 24:3-7. *
Each facet of that sign furnishes powerful, convincing evidence. Is such evidence enough to move us to act with urgency? One little cloud rising from the horizon was enough to convince Elijah that Jehovah was about to act. Was the faithful prophet disappointed?
Jehovah Brings Relief and Blessings
The account continues: “It came about in the meantime that the heavens themselves darkened up with clouds and wind and a great downpour began to occur. And Ahab kept riding and made his way to Jezreel.” (Verse 45) Events began to unfold at remarkable speed. While Elijah’s attendant was delivering the prophet’s message to Ahab, that little cloud became many, filling and darkening the sky. A great wind blew. At last, after three and a half years, rain fell on the soil of Israel. * The parched ground drank in the drops. As the rain became a downpour, the river Kishon swelled, no doubt washing away the blood of the executed Baal prophets. The wayward Israelites too were being given a chance to wash away the terrible stain of Baal worship on the land.
Surely Elijah hoped that it would be so! Would Ahab repent and turn away from the pollution of Baal worship? The events of the day had furnished powerful reasons to make such changes. Of course, we cannot know what was going through Ahab’s mind at the moment. The account simply tells us that the king “kept riding and made his way to Jezreel.” Had he learned anything? Was he resolved to change his ways? Later events suggest that the answer is no. Still, the day was not yet over for Ahab—nor for Elijah.
Jehovah’s prophet began to make his way along the same road Ahab had taken. A long, dark, wet trek lay ahead of him. But something unusual happened next.
“The very hand of Jehovah proved to be upon Elijah, so that he girded up his hips and went running ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.” (Verse 46) Clearly, “the very hand of Jehovah” was acting upon Elijah in a supernatural way. Jezreel was some 20 miles [30 km] distant, and Elijah was no youth. * Just picture that prophet girding up his long garments, tying them at his hips so that his legs would have freedom of movement, and then running along that rain-drenched road—running so fast that he caught up with, passed, and outpaced the royal chariot!
What a blessing that must have been for Elijah! To feel such strength, vitality, and stamina—perhaps even more than he had ever felt in his youth—must have proved a thrilling experience. We might be reminded of the prophecies that guarantee perfect health and vigor to faithful ones in the coming earthly Paradise. (Isaiah 35:6; Luke 23:43) As Elijah raced along that wet road, he surely knew that he had the approval of his Father, the only true God, Jehovah!
Jehovah is eager to bestow blessings. Reaching out for them is worth every effort we can make. Like Elijah, we need to be watchful, carefully weighing the powerful evidence showing that Jehovah is about to act in these dangerous and urgent times. Like Elijah, we have every reason to place complete confidence in the promises of Jehovah, “the God of truth.”—Psalm 31:5.
^ par. 4 For details, see the article “He Stood Up for Pure Worship,” in the January 1, 2008, issue of The Watchtower.
^ par. 16 Today, the Great Sea is known as the Mediterranean.
^ par. 17 For more information on the evidence that Jesus’ words are undergoing fulfillment today, see chapter 9 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
^ par. 20 Some wonder if the Bible contradicts itself regarding the length of the drought. See the box on page 19.
^ par. 23 Soon after this, Jehovah would assign Elijah to train Elisha, who would become known as the one “who poured out water upon the hands of Elijah.” (2 Kings 3:11) Elisha acted as Elijah’s attendant, evidently offering practical assistance to an older man.
[Box/Picture on page 19]
How Long Was the Drought in Elijah’s Day?
Jehovah’s prophet Elijah announced to King Ahab that the long drought would end soon. That happened “in the third year”—evidently counting from the day Elijah first announced the drought. (1 Kings 18:1) Jehovah sent rain soon after Elijah said that He would. Some might conclude, then, that the drought ended during the course of its third year and that it was therefore less than three years long. However, both Jesus and James tell us that the drought lasted “three years and six months.” (Luke 4:25; James 5:17) Is this a contradiction?
Not at all. You see, the dry season in ancient Israel was quite long, lasting up to six months. No doubt Elijah came to Ahab to announce the drought when the dry season was already proving to be unusually long and severe. In effect, the drought had begun nearly half a year earlier. Thus, when Elijah announced the end of the drought “in the third year” from his previous announcement, the drought had already lasted nearly three and a half years. The full “three years and six months” had elapsed by the time all the people assembled to witness the great test on Mount Carmel.
Consider, then, the timing of Elijah’s first visit to Ahab. The people believed that Baal was “the rider of the clouds,” the god who would bring rains to end the dry season. If the dry season was unusually long, people likely wondered: ‘Where is Baal? When will he bring the rains?’ Elijah’s announcement that neither rain nor dew would occur until he said so must have been devastating to those Baal worshippers.—1 Kings 17:1.
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture on page 18]
Elijah’s prayers reflected his earnest desire to see God’s will done